Interesting thing happens when it comes to boxing and movies. Go on, name five great world-beating boxers. Right, now name five actors who have played supposedly world-beating boxers in boxing movies.

You notice a colour difference?

That's one of the nice twists about Creed. It's standing on the shoulders of a boxing movie giant, that deathless underdog, Rocky Balboa, as created in the 1976 crowd-pleasing classic by Sylvester Stallone and then revived in five increasingly ridiculous sequels for the next 30 years.

And as its name suggests, it's got something to do with Rocky's old African-American sparring partner, the Ali-like Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) who died in the ring in Rocky IV.

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But Creed is also a film about black kid, well, doing a Rocky.

That's Adonis Johnson (Michael B.Jordan), a guy who has turned his back on his adopted 90210 life in California to become a fighter ... because, well, it runs in the family.

Which might make it sound like this will soon veer into the territory that made this year's Southpaw a punch-drunk melodrama.

It comes close, care of what is going on in the life of the aging Balboa (Stallone in an affecting performance), widowed and running a restaurant back in his old Philly neighbourhood.

Johnson has sought him out as trainer. They are soon headed into the big time.

But for all its predictability, and its cliches, Creed is still a fresh, exciting boxing drama all its own, while easily being the best Rocky movie in nearly 40 years.

It helps that writer-director Ryan Coogler, who directed Jordan in Fruitvale Station and who went to Stallone with his idea for his next generation Rocky spin-off, doesn't let his respect for the original stop this telling his own story and ensuring Jordan remains the star.

Though he also rewards fans' affections for the '76 film, teasing them with the massed trumpets of the original theme as Jordan pounds his way in his grey sweats through the streets of Philly - and yes, there is a scene on those famous steps at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and it's a doozie.

Those fight scenes of his are something too. One match is rendered as a single two-round long-take that impresses for its camera choreography.

But what makes Creed work is that it's not just about the bouts.

The scenes about the film's main relationships - the one between Johnson and the coach he calls "Unc", and the sweetly romantic one between Johnson and Bianca (a vibrant Tessa Thompson), the musician from downstairs - aren't there to be filler between rounds.

They're the meat of the movie.

Sure, this being Philly there's fair dollop of cheese with that steak. But Creed still packs a surprising punch.

Verdict: Yes, a knock-out.


Cast: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson

Director: Ryan Coogler

Running time: 133 mins

Rating: M (violence, offensive language)